Do you struggle with how to engage people who disagree online? You’re not alone. As noted in parts 1, 2, and 3 (of six), the term Apologia Sophia (Gk: ἀπολογία σοφία) transliterates the Greek word endings and roughly translates to “apologetics wisdom.” In this post, I hope to offer more such wisdom—practical advice—that can lead to more fruitful online discussions.
Let me enumerate three points that I hope will prepare you for productive apologetic online engagement. These points apply equally to both professional and lay Christian apologists.
Rules of Internet and Social Media Apologetics Engagement
Christianity is a hot topic on the Web and social media. Opportunities to engage in dialogues about the truth of historic Christianity abound on Facebook, Twitter, and on the web in general. But does cyberspace come with helpful guidelines (in terms of apologetics interaction) to follow? No. Therefore, based on my own online interactions and experiences in social media, I’ve put together three suggestions that I hope you’ll find useful.
1. Own Your Identity
Obviously, there are times when a person may not want to give their real name online. Some people should never give out such information. This is especially true for young people whose activity online needs to be carefully supervised by their parents. Safety is always a paramount concern because we live in a world occupied by evil people.
Nevertheless, there are potential drawbacks to not revealing your name or identity when in discussion mode, especially about issues of spiritual truth. Anonymous people have a tendency to act in less responsible ways and to say things they would never say if their identity were known. When someone can’t be held personally accountable, they often show a strong propensity to dodge the truth and resort to game playing and name-calling. Anonymous comments left on the Web is evidence of original sin.
By being candid about your identity you are encouraging others who are less forthright to engage in open, honest discussion about matters of truth. Personally, I will not participate in an online discussion without giving my real name. The problem with cyberspace is that it places potential obstacles in the way of candor, transparency, and accountability. These qualities reflect ethos (moral credibility) and they are important virtues to exhibit when it comes to sharing and defending the gospel of Christ.
2. Focus on One-on-One Interactions
The Web and social media make it possible to interact with multiple people on a given subject virtually at the same time. However, group discussions often become scattered. It is difficult to make substantive progress on an issue when the topic bounces back and forth like a cyber ping-pong ball.
I recommend, when possible, limiting serious discussion to one-on-one dialogue. People often act differently when they’re part of a group; usually, they are more carefree and even cavalier. But a more private conversation—even online—allows for a greater opportunity for meaningful exchange. The power of the gospel is often most evident when it is communicated from one person directly to another. So sending a private message to someone on social media might be advantageous.
3. Watch Attitude and Demeanor
Email, internet, and social media exchanges can come across as rather cold and impersonal. Since people can’t see each other’s faces or hear voice inflections there are few clues for interpreting the context of their words. Christians need to take extra steps in communicating a respectful attitude and a gracious demeanor. This means staying clear of inappropriate sarcasm and ridicule. It also means communicating understanding, empathy, and good humor.
Attitude and demeanor are often as important—when it comes to personal persuasion—as one’s arguments. People tend to believe ideas communicated by people they respect and trust. The language of apologetics persuasion includes logos (rational), ethos (moral), and pathos (emotional). Since online discussions are distant in more than one way, believers should give thoughtful consideration to how they present the claims of Christ.
May the Holy Spirit guide you in your apologetics adventures in cyberspace.
Reflections: Your Turn
What is your number one suggestion to Christians engaging in apologetics online?
- For more about answering tough apologetics questions, see Kenneth Richard Samples, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions.
- For more about the robust Christian worldview, see Kenneth Richard Samples, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.